I remember years back when my dad told me about the remarkable exploits of Frank Abagnale Jr. Abagnale was little older than I was, but he led a successful life of crime, impersonating an airplane pilot, a pediatrician, and a lawyer. I was fascinated.
So apparently was Steven Spielberg, who adapted the conman's life into a film in 2002, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks.
Frank Jr. starts his life in the center of the 1950s American Dream. His father (a very good Christopher Walken) is a successful businessman, his mother a beautiful Frenchwoman. But one day, Frank Sr. can't charm his way out of his troubles with the IRS. It turns out Mrs. Abagnale isn't so charmed with Frank Sr. as she is with the American Dream, and the cracks are beginning to show. Divorce and loss of innocence. Frank Jr. can't take it, so he starts to run, desperate to renew his lost childhood. DiCaprio is particularly good in the role, concocting just the right mix of charm, innocence, and immaturity.
But unlike some of Spielberg's characters, while there's some sentimentality, the vision of Frank doesn't dissolve into cuteness. Frank's relationship with innocent, needy Brenda (Amy Adams) is pushing things too far, even for him. We are charmed, but not conned. We don't trust him. He is desperate to return to that Elysian Eden, but we know, truly, there is no going back, even if we hope for something ahead.
And then there's the bad guy. Tom Hanks plays Carl Hanratty, an amusing, cranky FBI agent, eternally frustrated by the young, dashing Abagnale. Hanratty is crippled by his gang of incompetent, buffoonish colleagues, intensifying the already somewhat whimsical story. The two build an interesting relationship as Hanratty begins, slowly, to understand Abagnale, drawing on his own history of divorce.
Spielberg certainly knows how to make a fun film, and some of the little, ironic details concerning truth, reality, and other such symbols crop up frequently in the film, adding depth to the story. I didn't really come to care for any of the characters in a deep way, but I think that may be my fault for trying to watch two movies at once (the other one a particular sort of Steve Martin flick I don't care to review.) The conclusion resolves the various tensions with integrity, and gives us a glimpse of what may be healing.
For those of you who are interested, this link leads to an interesting take on the position of Authority in the film, and the connection to the story of the prodigal son.
Rated PG-13 - there is one sex scene, very brief. Some language.